Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Schooltime for the Obamas

Yesterday, both John McCain and Barack Obama were in the great state of Ohio firing off speeches (click the candidate for the audio). I won't bother with McCain today, as all I was waiting for was more Sarah Palin, and because it was a standard stump speech. However, Obama was talking about his education plans. So since he was on my home turf talking, why not talk about that?

He did start off with a little story about taking his daughters to school. As my eldest was doing just that at the time while I was shoveling out the disaster that is my room (see photo, right), I did have to smile a little. After all, it's something he and I do have in common.

(By the way, that's what I'm not throwing away. Scary? Yeah, I'm disorganized.)

So let me begin. I'm not going to go through his plan point by point. That's called tedium. I'll just lay out my ideers and skewer him when necessary or funny.

First of all, the fundamentals. Obama was talking about the eduaction system. This is the first part of the equation that is wrong, and has been consistently messed up by both parties. We have continued to add more and more structure and bureaucracy to the education system in order to make it easier to measure progress, train people for work, and homogenize the population. As we go to a more centralized and controlled system, we make education inaccessible for anyone on a margin, whether it be by intelligence, financial consideration, race, sex, learning method, parental worldview, etc.

We introduce standardized testing, which is designed to measure progress, but then becomes something to teach children to take.

We take cities where the education system is crumbling and we try the ol' Washington Band-Aid solution: stack enough money in front of it and hope it doesn't explode.

And we continue to tolerate the existence of the NEA, which, as unions are apt to do, continues to seek the status quo for its members, except with more pay and less individual responsibility.

There are really only two ways to address this. Either we can take the Obama route and throw more money and teachers and programs and government at the problem, or we can start stripping the layers of shit off the system to really fix it. Now what follows is not a complete plan. But it is a beginning.

Parents - This is the absolute difference between success and failure of anything that follows. Unfortunately, parents are the most inconsistent part of the whole equation. The problem with the system as it is is that the system is geared to take too much of the responsibility for educating away from parents and give it to the system. I don't have the answer here, but many of the most important things I've learned sure as hell didn't come from the education system.

Teachers - Again, there's no clear answer here, because we've gotten to a point where there is a working class where the only function is to impart knowledge. It comes down to the saying, "Those who can do, do; those who can't do, teach." Perhaps part of the solution is to get fewer career teachers and more people with experience into the classroom. This won't necessarily work for things like the early years of education, but people who teach for a period, as well as doing greater work, may be the key. A simple example of this is our second president, John Adams. He spent a short period sitting over a classroom. Not sure how well he did at it, but I guarantee people of his depth would be an improvement over the ones who are collecting the paycheck while looking to retirement.

The Department of Education and No Child Left Behind - Two words describe my plans for them: chopping block. The increasing focus of control and direction in a federal agency is one of the greatest mistakes we ever made in education. The principle is that the people closest to the children are most knowlegable about how to educate them. And while the other extreme would also not work, the more local and personal the control gets, the easier it is to fix the problems.

Money, money, money - I don't have the numbers handy, but I bet I'm not wrong in saying that we in our tiny small towns (like New Bremen and Wasilla) get a whole lot of bang for our educational buck than the big cities. And while we continue to pour more money into cities with no results and add more to the federal coffers for every program that would be best handled locally, nothing changes.

Union Mentality - Organized eduactaion is what bred the organized labor. And if they behave as a labor union, it's bad. If they lean toward a trade union, then they can be of use.

Flexibility - One lesson I learned from eight shitty years in a shitty Catholic school was that I don't fit the mold. I know this surprises people who've been reading me a while, but it's true. That mildly autistic son of mine, I suspect, is more like me than is comfortable for most people to consider. My point is that, after the basics, our education system is designed not to educate, but to mold people to fit into society. Rather than trying to make all the kids learn the same things at the same time, all that local control would let the classrooms adapt to fit the varying ways we learn. It's the reason home schooling works as well as it does.

But since an educated class wouldn't put up with the bullshit we've been handed, and the best way to keep people dumb and happy is to design an education system to do that, I don't see either candidate really getting it right.

(The picture to the left is the command center where I generate all the delicious stuff that you read. Since it's all clean now, I figgerd I'd share the fun. And yes, there are two computers there)


Toad734 said...

Here's the deal; I don't disagree with most of what you said but I think you are missing a couple key points:
A. You didn't come from the public education system so you probably don't know much about it. Catholic school, more than the public schools system tries to mold you to fit into society, their catholic society, a bit more than a lot of public schools. In fact, a lot of pulbic schools are just trying to get you out before you get shot or overdose. I am sure Wasilla and New Bremen are a little more effecient because the kids don't come to school with the same problems the kids in Chicago come with. Most of that comes down to parents, sometimes it comes down to language issues (imagine trying to be a Somolian kid or teaching a Somolian kid who doesn't even have a written language and up until 2 months ago, didn't even know how a door nob worked), gangs in the schools, drugs in the schools, etc. Again, not things most small town schools have to deal with until you factor in the gun nuts who let their kids take guns to school and shoot up their class mates. That's actually probably a bigger problem in your types of schools than mine. But that affects only a small number of schools and students where what I describe affects almost every school in Chicago. Maybe not with Somolians but Polish, Bosnians, Mexicans, Korean, etc. Clearly all those people have written languages and know how to use door nobs. So, its not just the parents. And yes, those types of scenarios require more resources. I am sure if by tomorrow, New Bremen suddenly had all those issues they would be in the same shoes as D.C. Schools. Don't pretend that small towners are better, smarter or more effecient than people in the big cities. Now you are coming off as an elitist like Palin who thinks the good people come from small towns. Now, I don't really have the answer here other than why does Chicago schools have to cut their sports programs (the only thing that keeps half the kids interested in going to school), have led paint chips peeling off the walls, asbestose laced pipes, small class rooms with large classes, few modern computers etc. when suburban schools have state of the art football stadiums, one computer per student, multiple foreign language teachers, clean learning environments, even TV studios etc.?? Well, its because of money.

B. Money can fix some of these issues. If you pay a teacher less than what you pay a mail man, there aren't going to be a whole lot of top notch peole signing up to be a teacher, except the ones who want the summer off. If you are a smart, well put together person and you can make 90,000 per year as a pharmacist or 35,000 per year as a Chemistry teacher, what are you going to do? Now, if you barely passed your college courses and aren't that bright, kind of a slacker who likes the summers off, and Eli Lilly won't hire you, you may be willing to teach. Now, if that teaching position paid 80,000 per year, with summers off, don't you think they could recruit better teachers? DOn't you think better teachers could go a long way in teaching the children? Its the same as the Army, if you pay more, you will get better people. Blackwater for instance, pays 6x the amount the US soldier gets paid. Why do you think the US hires them for critical security missions?? They get better people. The Army could get the same people if they paid as much as Blackwater and since the US ends up paying for it anyways, why not. We are paying for our failed education system...Ms. South Carolina is a good case in point.

I don't really have any solutions other than I would do away with the local tax base crap which supports local schools. People moved out of the cities, and left bad schools, bad teachers and bad students behind to find better schools out in the Suburbs. That and they were racists. So the equalizer would be to take the funding from suburban schools and put it into the City schools which decreases the drive for people to move out there taking their resources with them. That sounds worse than it is; simply put, let the state distribute the funds from a pool which was collected from every tax payer in the state and no one school gets more money just because of where they are located. Sure, schools with somalians immigrants or a lot of pregnant teens may need some more resources than other schools and that is fine. I just don't think we should spoil the suburban white kids and piss on the innercity brown people. That is one of the biggest problems in public education today. That and no child left behind and the fact that we allow kids to drop out of school when they reach 16. What kind of bullshit is that?

Patrick M said...

You didn't come from the public education system so you probably don't know much about it.

Actually, I did spend high school in the public system. But the public schools in my hometown were definitely better than the Catholic, for some of the reasons I cover in general.

Now I believe I addressed the issues you seem to have missed, but I'll repeat.

I do expect big city schools to have to spend a little more money to achieve similar results. But that's not what we see, and the continuing increase in throwing money at problems when it is a change of culture that is needed.

The problems of Chicago's schools (and more at home for me, the clusterfuck of Cleveland) can be solved. But it will take commitments from the bureaucracy, the educators, the parents, and even the students. I don't have all the answers at this, but that's the beauty of my ideas. Where there's an immigrant population with English as a second language, the system can be adjusted to more language work. Where there's an assload of unemployment and pissed off youth, then trying to turn this anger to something positive is key to making curriculum work (which makes cutting extracurricular stuff absolutely dumb). And around here, we can teach kids to handle guns responsibly.

Now, the secret is to find ways to use the money to better the school. This means getting funding and support from the community as well. Now there are some schools that simply do not, and will not have the tax base to support them. This is where the states (and not DC) come in. There are 50 of them, and each one can support the schools that are unable to fund themselves.

This is where school choice really comes in. When opportunities for good schools appear, the bad schools will empty. Then we can fix what's left. I will admit that this doesn't solve the problem of shitty schools and shitty parents together. If the parents can't motivate the child, the school can't motivate the child, and the child has no motivation of their own, their life is going to suck. And while it is a noble goal, there will always be people who will fall through the cracks (which is a different problem, if you know what I mean by a crack).

But the problems with education in places like Chicago are tied to many of the other cultural, financial, and political problems that make people unequal. So it's a matter of addressing EVERYTHING at the same time. But that's too much for just one post, and way too much for the comments....

Toad734 said...

Agreed, it is everything. Where I think our schools started falling apart was white flight. The tax bases and integration of working families, rich and poor all going to the same schools and putting everything into the same basket and having at least a mix of parents and kids who cared along with those who didn't was a lot better than it is today. At least back then, there were examplesk of students who could do well all around you and it wasn't frowned upon to be smart or to want to learn like it is in many inner city schools today. And yes, taking football and basketball and the arts out of the equation makes school all that much more unbareable coupled with the fact that most of these kids have to join a gang to survive. There are good schools in Chicago and even good sections of public schools in Chicago (magnent programs), thats where the 9% white population ends up putting their kids... the english speaking white people that is, AKA yuppies.

Even in 1980 the Schools here were 17% white and that was after white flight had already gone into effect. I am not saying a school has to be white for it to be good and Chicago does have the largest black middle class in the country (hence Obama, Jackson, Oprah, etc) Ok those people are rich and their kids wouldn't go to public schools but you get what I am saying. When you take out the families with money, the families who care, families that are actually families, the families with jobs, etc. and all you leave is housing project spawn where the father is in jail and the mom is on either welfare or crack and there is no balance with other types of students, what teacher would want to teach in that environment. Schools today are hardley as integrated as they were before Brown vs Board of Education. If we are supposedly providing equal protection, then why are these schools not equal? Again, white flight and money.

Thats at least what you have to look at to begin solving this issue. Ignoring that and just saying teachers unions are greedy isn't going to get you anywhere.

Indianapolis tried forced bussing and was sending black kids from bad neighborhoods to good suburban/township schools. fine, thats noble and everything but when the black kids have to get up 2 hours earlier than the white kids and it takes them and extra hour or so to get home, that isn't equal either.

Bottom line is that neigher voting for Obama or McCain will change this system drastically. But, who do you think is more likely to address it, the guy with 7 houses who thinks the economy is great or the black guy who saw the advantage and potential of a black kid growing up and attending affluent white schools?

Beth said...

You speak of the white flight Toad, but what are you gonna do, tell people they cannot move to the suburbs?

Mike's America said...

"tell people they cannot move to the suburbs?"

That's exactly what the left is trying to do. In the name of combatting the fraud that is global warming they want people to stay in the cities living in high rises where they won't be able to own or drive SUVs.

Patrick M said...

Toad: White Flight? So you're saying the problem is with societal racism? Going to go off and laugh now.

Ok, I'm back. We've been working on getting institutional racism out of the country for 50 years now? We've gone from separate fountains and Jim Crow to being on the threshold of electing a black man as president. And even in the lily white small towns around me we're slowly seeing integration (and trust me, there's a few racists around here).

Yet there were more stable families 50 years ago, those same black boys and girls worked their asses off with the deck really stacked against them, and they did pretty good. But now, they've pretty much squandered that with laziness, narcissism, and no appreciation of how many people suffered and died to give them the freedom they're wasting.

Now we've seen this trend (and the subsequent decline of education) among white people as well, just not to the extreme.

It's easy to blame the "rich white people" for running away, but that really doesn't solve the problem. But most of those "rich white people" would be willing to invest in people who are producing results. Creating a reason for people to invest in those schools is the responsibility of the parents and the teachers and the children themselves.

Put simply, the answer is not money from the hand of Washington, but the people on the ground to take control of their children's destiny.

Beth: Nothing really to add. Other than suggestions as to what to do to ward off laughing at Toad.

Mike: You missed the whole global warming indoctrination thing for the schools. There's the big reason for parental control over the establishment. And since you brought it up, this is a perfect example of teaching political agendas rather than teaching things that will directly impact the lives of the students.

Toad734 said...

But a lot of our problems do stem from the white flight out of the cities into the suburbs. From pollution, food prices, gas prices, crime and crumbling schools in the inner city and deteriorating neighborhoods in the inner city. Clearly you can't tell people they can't move to the suburbs but don't pretend it doesn't have an effect on the whole of society.

If you look at places like Miami, Detroit, Chicago, NYC, almost any city really you see interstates that cut through black neighborhoods in order for white people to be able to move out of those neighborhoods abandon the schools and businesses and take their money with them. Yes, it was racism that allowed the government to carve up the black neighborhood forcing people out of their homes, and businesses and then segregating the people from the businesses making it impossible for those businesses to prosper since most of their customers lived on the other side of the massive freeway. People in Boston fought shit like this because they knew their neighborhoods would suffer the same fates so the inner belt was never built. When you take home owners and turn them into renters, create a situation where you seperate customers from businesses,lower property values by building an interstate over their heads, allow the schools to fall apart and then pump a bunch of drugs into the now depressed neighborhood, the schools are going to suffer.

Patrick M said...

But a lot of our problems do stem from the white flight out of the cities into the suburbs.

I could quote more, but it would just be mockery.

You miss the point oh so much. The black family and culture has survived challenges that none of us today can know. They survived slavery, where they were split up and sold like cattle and relegated to property. After many people fought and died to free them, they had to bear the injustice of being free in name, but enslaved by class, relegated to separation and trapped by closed doors. Many more fought and died to turn the corner, and we did so. But they gave up. Too many of them sacrificed pride, sought to retreat back into a segregation of their own choosing, mired themselves in the bitterness and anger.

Now I won't say that there are no white people who have any share of the blame here, but this insistence on finding blame with others is what enables the irresponsible to fuck off and the remaining good people to be paralyzed. It's the same mentality that created human misery after Katrina, but was somewhat remedied by the time Gustav hit.

In the end, no matter what the circumstances, there is no good solution to the problem that doesn't depend on the people that need the help, and giving them excuses to fail will never help solve the problem.

Toad734 said...

Yes I supposed they should have done more for themselves after the dog bites healed and the fire hoses were no longer spraying them down in their own neighborhood. If they would have only not been so lazy, white people wouldn't have forced them out of their homes.

Patrick M said...

If they would have only not been so lazy, white people wouldn't have forced them out of their homes.

Toad: Are you going to put that one on a bumper sticker?